While a Starbucks in the Glickman Library may seem like an exciting new addition to campus, the service fails to provide a full assortment of options. Sodexo, USM’s food provider, was chosen because they presented the best offer and the highest capital amongst competition. Many of the statements by USM officials about the Starbucks’ success differ greatly from the perspectives of students on campus.
Sodexo, which has business ties with Starbucks, made the suggestion of bringing a Starbucks coffee shop to Glickman. According to Buster Neel, the decision was made after hearing strong student, faculty and staff interest.
The Starbucks in the library is not a full-service location, and offers only coffee and snacks. The initial installation cost, according to Neel, was around $20,000–$25,000. The contract started on July 1, 2016, and will continue through June 30, 2021. It is renewable for five additional one year terms by USM.
According to an article by the Free Press published in March, “The money is pulled from a one-million-dollar contract between USM and Sodexo,” so in the first two years of the contract, there is this much money available for “university renovations through Sodexo.”
Neel explained that changes will come to the Starbucks in the summer, after the university begins running water lines to the Starbucks location in order to meet health department requirements for speciality drinks. He said that during this time, various quotes on pricing for Starbucks installations will come in.
“[Sodexo] can have a Starbucks operation or we can just serve Starbucks coffee instead. It’s much more expensive to have a full fledge Starbucks,” said Neel. “By the fall semester, students, faculty and staff will be able to get a lot more than they’re getting now.”
The current plan is to see what summer brings. Otherwise, future goals aim to completely redo the whole first floor of the Glickman Library so that the Starbucks location will be closer to the entrance and exit doors.
“One of the things I know that the director of the library wants to do is get students in the building,” said Neel, speaking for David Nutty. “The long-term goal is to have a strong gathering place for individual and group study, as well as a charging station. But that takes money, and that takes time.”
All six institutions in the UMaine system now have a contract with Sodexo. Neel explained that this was a system-level decision to go out and re-bid. He noted that three bids came in back: Sodexo, Aramark and local individuals in the state.
“After looking at all the financial components, the service component and so forth, the collective wisdom of the system showed that Sodexo provided the best offer,” said Neel. “These local individuals couldn’t come up with the capital or a price point that was competitive. A lot of what we’re trying to do is not only provide better service but keep the costs down too.”
According to Tadd Sloane, general manager of Sodexo operations at USM and UMaine Augusta, product fatigue was a big reason for not choosing Coffee By Design for the library, one of USM’s current local coffee options, which is offered in the Woodbury Campus Center, the Luther Bonney Snack Station and on the Gorham campus.
“Currently, we have eight or nine locations serving Coffee By Design…” he said.“We hear that students are looking for some variety.” He confirmed that Sodexo offered Starbucks as a potential business to come to campus.
Since the initial excitement of the Starbucks installation, students interviewed by the Free Press have expressed a huge disinterest in and dissatisfaction with the new addition to Glickman. Senior history major Jessica Vogel stated that while it is nice to have decent coffee available, calling it a Starbucks at all is not the right label when considering how little it offers.
“I think if you’re gonna have a contract [between Sodexo and USM] that costs so much, there are a lot of local shops that have great products,” she said. “If students could form partnerships with those kind of companies, it’s much more beneficial.”
Neel explained that after establishing rates and working with Sodexo to provide students what they need, USM gets as close to “breaking even” as possible. He explained that USM spends 3 million on meal plans through Sodexo, and that USM turns around and charges students for these meal plans. He also stated that Sodexo has catering, which USM gets a sales commission on. This extra income, he said, is “for the most part” put back into the dining operation.
“I think we don’t necessarily try to make this a profit operation for us, obviously Sodexo has to make a profit, but our main concern is to try to offer products to the student at a reasonable price,” he said. “The surveys that have come out so far have a pretty high rating of satisfaction. At this point the students are, overall pleased with us.”
Sophomore social work major Samia Ali disagrees with Neel’s statements, saying that the costs of items in the Starbucks are too expensive, so she has never purchased any product at this location.
“The costs could be a lot cheaper than they are now,” said Ali. “It shouldn’t cost so much. A lot of people like their coffee but as students it is hard for us to afford.”
In March of this year, senior psychology major Brent Shabnore told the Free Press that he thinks the Starbucks addition makes a lot of sense for the university. He explained his liking for its convenient location, noting that you “can’t have a library without a coffee [shop] at the bottom of it,” saying that it’s “basic economics.”
When addressed with several Sodexo controversies, which include allegations of providing low-paying wages, owning private prisons and finding horse meat DNA in food, Neel stated that the decision was made without “getting into the political side of things.” He continued by explaining the importance of satisfying students.
“I think the committee went about this with what’s best for our students, providing the needs that we have. We haven’t had any comments on controversy at this point,” he said. “It’s never gonna be perfect, there is no such thing as that.”
Some information in this article was collected by Johnna Ossie, News Editor of the Free Press.